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Surfrider Beach and MRSA

May 14, 2012

MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is present in the sand at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach.   It is also present in the nearby ocean.   It is also present at many – perhaps all – other beaches and adjacent ocean waters in L.A. County.   It is also present at other American ocean beaches and waters.   It has been present at all these locations for years.   It may well be on your skin, right now.

According to the CDC, 20 to 25 percent of us have S.aureus (primarily in our nose) and about 2% of us have MRSA (also primarily in the nose).  Many people have MRSA and never get sick, but they can transmit it.   Other authoritative websites say 20-30% or 20-40% of us have S.aureus on our skin.   Take your pick.

Studies (here’s one) (and another, and another, and another – see Google for more) seem to show that the bacteria in the sand and ocean comes from contact with human skin: the more humans present (and the warmer the water the more present we’ll be), especially if they’re blowing their noses, the more bacteria is present.  This goes for not just MRSA, but for forms of FIB (fecal indicator bacteria) and S.aureus in general.

So, with that in mind, here’s some more on the ongoing discussion on the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project.

Here’s a link to a short film featuring various people who are involved – probably, after all these years, way more than they’d like to be – people like Suzanne Goode from Calif. State Parks and Shelley Luce of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.   It addresses the five most common ‘errors’ (to be polite) of belief concerning the restoration.

Here’s a link to what Heal the Bay has to say.   It also has a link to the above film.

Finally, here’s two letters-to-the-editor from the May 10, 2012 issue of Malibu Surfside News (scroll down to page 15 for PDF), which will bring us back to the MRSA topic.   By the way and for what it’s worth, I stopped body surfing at Will Rogers State Beach decades ago because I got sick and tired of the inevitable sinus infections which immediately followed.   [Chuck Almdale]

I am disappointed by the level of fear-mongering and misinformation in the May 3, 2012 letter written by Lawrence Stock and Lisa Plano.   Stock and Plano’s letter incorrectly implies that the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project will increase the danger of Staphylococcus infections to users of Surfrider Beach.   This could not be further from the truth. In fact, bacteria-laden waters move freely from the western
arms of the lagoon into the creek and onto the beach during normal, everyday lagoon conditions.

The restoration project will separate the western arms of the lagoon from the main lagoon and creek channel with a physical barrier that will prevent water moving back and forth.   The restoration project will then remove water from the western arms and thoroughly disinfect it, killing all bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus (staph bacteria) and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), before the water is
discharged at the mean high tide line of the beach.   If there are MRSA or staph in the sand, they are already constantly mobilized into the swimming zone by waves naturally breaking on the beach.   Therefore if anything, the disinfected water released by the restoration project will dilute and decrease the concentrations of bacteria including staph and MRSA in the water and sand at Surfrider Beach.

Stock and Plano refer to a recent NOAA study but fail to mention an important point: that staph bacteria and MRSA were found at three California beaches and “beach prevalence was similar to that in homes.”   The study finds that MRSA and staph concentrations are lowest at Surfrider Beach, and are at least 1000 times lower than concentrations that cause infections on normal human skin.   The study also states that swimmers themselves are a source of the bacteria.   In fact, one in three people carry staph on their skin, and community facilities where lots of people interact, such as hospitals and schools, are where the greatest concentrations of staph and MRSA are found (http://www.   The website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control states that “MRSA in the community is widespread and therefore, anyone is at risk…People may be more at risk in…athletic facilities, dormitories, military barracks, correctional facilities, and daycare centers” (

The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, State Parks and the State Coastal Conservancy have worked extremely hard to design a project that will benefit people and wildlife now and for many generations to come.   These agencies would never support a project that would endanger public health or well-being.   I am frustrated and disappointed by attacks based on misinformation, and the seemingly
deliberate misleading of a concerned public.   I look forward to celebrating a healthy, restored lagoon that is better for birds, better for fish and better for people after our project is completed.       Shelley Luce, executive director SMBRC

In response to a previous letter, staphylococcus is indeed in the sand at Surfrider.   It is in the creek. It is in the lagoon.   It is all over the place. It has been flowing out to the surfers at First Point for decades.   Here is another attempt by the people opposing the restoration project to use fear mongering spin to try to convince the naive to believe that the project will be solely responsible for releasing dangerous levels of MRSA into the environment.

I cannot believe that in this letter the author says, “Scientific studies are currently being conducted investigating the connection of oceanborne MRSA and the risk of infections to swimmers and surfers.”   Duh, really.   Of course, there is.   And how dare these doctors allude that the restoration project will expose surfers and swimmers to higher levels of MRSA than they are now.   The creek is now flowing out to First Point after flowing through the same sands in the western channels and main channel that is full of MRSA.

Presently, swimmers and surfers are exposed to untreated creek water exiting the lagoon, which is full of MRSA that is in the sands of the lagoon and beach sand.   The restoration’s custom built dewatering treatment facility will be taking the water that would have left the lagoon untreated and decontaminate it, making it safer than what is flowing out of the lagoon now.

Many years ago, I was on a surfing boat trip in Indonesia with the great Dusty Peak (Skylar Peak’s dad).   One day, after surfing good waves at Lances Right, he told me he thinks he got a staph infection in his leg after surfing Surfrider.   The infection never completely abated, complications persisted, and may have led to his unfortunate passing, which had nothing to do with the proposed restoration project.

Other surfers have died from surfing Surfrider who contracted the coxsackie B4 virus.   My friend Ken Sieno is one of the few who survived the virus that attacks the right heart ventricle only because he had a pacemaker placed in his chest.   Some of these deaths occurred while Tapia was still discharging and other victims died after Tapia stopped discharging.   Meanwhile antiquated septic systems have continued to discharge into overly saturated leach fields that have direct hydraulic connections to creeks, lagoons and beaches, which caused me to get dysentery for five days last June after surfing First Point.                 Steve Woods

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